Consumer dissatisfaction


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Consumer dissatisfaction the effect of disconfirmed expectancy on perceived product performance
Product performance
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x, 131 leaves. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Anderson, Rolph Ely, 1936-
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Consumers   ( lcsh )
Commercial products   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: leaves 123-130.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Rolph E Anderson.
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Manuscript copy.
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University of Florida
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Full Text

Consumer Dissatisfaction: The Effect of Disconfinied
Expectancy on Perceived Product Performance


Rolph Ely Anderson



Copyright by

Rolph Ely Anderson


Dedicated to


ArI', PG F1

My sincere gratitude is extended to C. Arnold Matthews,

Professor of Finance; Ralph H. Blodgett, Professor of Economics;

and John H. James, Associate Professor of Management, for their

generous support and cooperation. In addition, I would like to

thank Ralph B. Thompson, Professor of Marketing, and John H. Faricy,

Assistant Professor of Marketing, for their help in selecting a

dissertation topic, and Zarrel V. Lambert, Associate Professor of

Marketing, for his suggestions in analyzing the experimental data.

Special thanks go to Robert B. Settle, Assistant Professor

of Marketing, for giving so unselfishly of his time and advice.

His personal enthusiasm and interest have served as a constant

inspiration and added much to my academic development.

Finally, I wish to express my deep appreciation to

J. Donald Butterworth, the Chairman of my supervisory committee

and Chairman of the Department of Marketing, for his continued

support, counsel, and encouragement throughout my doctoral program.













\Consumerism . . 3

The Consumer Movement . 7

Underlying Reasons for Consumerism 18


Consumer Sovereignty . .. 24

Information . .... .29

Consumer Dissatisfaction . 3

PERFORMANCE . .... .37

Theoretical Models ....... .. 37

Hypotheses . .... .48

IV. METHODOLOGY ............... 49

Experimental Research . .. 50

Design of the Experiment .. .52

Analysis of Data . ... .59

CONTENTS (continued):

Chapter Page

V. RESULTS ................ 61

Presentation and Analysis ... 61

Relationship to Theory ... 64


Interpretation of Results ... 74

Implications for Marketing ... 78

Suggestions for Future Research .. 83

APPENDIX A ................... ... 90

APPENDIX B . .... ..... 118

APPENDIX C . .... ..... 120

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . ... 123

VITA . . ... ...... .131


Table Page

1. Major Consumer Protection Laws 1900-1969 4

2. Prediction Matrix for Hypotheses ... 53

3. Mean Response by Condition and Treatment 62

4. Results of New Multiple Range Test .. 63

5. Analysis of Variance: Expectations .. 65

6. Analysis of Variance: Product Perceptions 66

7. Analysis of Variance: Product Perceptions
(Treatment Variable Collapsed) .. 67

8. Deviation From Linearity: Relationship
Between Expectations and Product
Perceptions . .... .72


Figure Page

1. Theories of Disconfinration of Expectations 41

2. Plot of M-an Response by Condition: Product
Features ............. 69

3. Plot of Mean Response by Condition:
Combined Characteristics ...... 70

4. Plot of Mean Response by Condition: Price 71


Abstract of Dissertation Presented tohe
Graduate Council of tile University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment
of the Rcqui.rements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Rolph Ely Andcrson

August, 1971

Chairman: J. Donald Buttcrworth
Major Departiment: Marketing

This research examines consumer dissatisfaction within the

context of consumerism. It attempts to determine the effect of

disconfirmed expectations on perceived product performance. In

predicting the effect on perceived product performance of disparity

between expectancy and actual product performance, four psychological

theories were considered: (1) cognitive dissonance assimilationn);

(2) contrast; (3) generalized negativity; and (4) assimilation-

contrast. Each theory makes a different prediction regarding

disconfirned expectancies.

Five hypotheses were tested:

1. Null Hypothesis -- product perceptions are
not significantly different for various
levels of expectations.

2. Assimilation -- product perceptions will
vary directly with the level of expectations.

3. Contrast -- product perceptions will vary
inversely with the level of expectations.

4. Generalized Negativity -- product perceptions
will always be negative when there is disparity
between expectations and actual product per-
formance, and the degree of negativity will
vary directly with the amount of disparity.

5. Assimilation-Contrast -- product perceptions will
vary directly with expectations over a range
around actual performance, but above and below
this threshold, product perceptions will vary
inversely with the level of expectations.

Evaluations of identical ballpoint pens were obtained in group

administration from 144 marketing students. Manipulation of the

independent variable (expectations) was accomplished by randomly

assigning subjects to one of five different levels of persuasive

product information, or no product information.

The experimental results reveal that there is a point beyond

which consumers will not accept increasing disparity between product

claims and actual performance. When this threshold of rejection is

reached, consumers will evaluate the product less favorably than at a

slightly lower level of expectations. Assimilation-contrast theory

best describes this effect, and suggests that promotional messages

should create expectations for the consumer as high as possible within

the consumer's range of acceptance.

Major conclusions from the research are: (1) that too great

a gap between high expectations and actual product performance may

cause a less favorable evaluation of a product than a somewhat lower

level of disparity, and (2) that product evaluations are higher when

objective product information, as opposed to no information, is provided

customers. Assuming consumer dissatisfaction is a function of the dis-

parity between expectations and perceived product performance, unrealistic

consumer expectations generated by excessive promotional exaggeration

can result in consumer dissatisfaction. The provision of objective

product information, however, can enhance consumer satisfaction.



It seems incongruous that consumerism could have become such a

powerful prevailing force when the marketing concept, i.e., "customer

satisfaction at a profit," has been so highly publicized as a successful

business credo since the early 1950s. To date, most of what has been

written about the consumer movement, its underlying causes, and the

appropriate response for business has been based on little more than

speculation. Such an approach is hardly one on which American business-

men can confidently base major corporate decisions.

If we are to really understand the underlying reasons for

consumerism, we must follow Alderson's edict to set up falsifiable

propositions or testable hypotheses concerning the problems, then obtain

empirical evidence to support or refute these hypotheses [1]. Today

consumerism is such a complex force -- so interrelated with other

ecological, social, political, ethical, economic, and technological

problems -- that, at this stage, it can be studied empirically only one

step at a time. Probably the most fundamental question being raised

about consumerism is: What are the sources of consumer dissatisfaction?

It is the purpose of this research to investigate consumer

dissatisfaction within the context of consumerism, to set up testable

hypotheses, and to examine the empirical data for solutions to this

critical business problem. More, it is to determine the

effect of different levels of expectations on product evaluations or

perceptions of product performance.

There is much conflicting evidence in the journals of psychology

regarding the effects on individuals of disconfinred expectancies, and

this critical question for designing promotional mixes has been virtually

ignored in the marketing literature. It is important that marketers

learn as much as possible about consumer expectations, perceived product

performance, and customer satisfaction because these variables are keys

to predicting consumer purchase behavior. Furthermore, management can,

within limits, influence consumer expectations and product performance,

and thereby customer satisfaction through skillful manipulation of the

marketing mix. There may be significant policy implications for quality

control, price, promotion, and other elements of the marketing mix

depending upon whether consumer expectations are too high, product

performance too low, or promotional messages misplaced; i.e., aimed at

generating an inappropriate level of expectations.

The research approach will be to first trace the highlights of

the consumer movement to obtain a basic understanding of consumerism and

to identify possible underlying causes for its recent resurgence. Next,

the fundamental incompatibility of consumerism and the marketing concept

will be discussed, and the possible reasons for the current state of

consumer dissatisfaction analyzed. This background study of the problem

of consumerism should aid substantially in the research on consumer

dissatisfaction by (1) providing the insights necessary for setting up

specific testable hypotheses, (2) suggesting parameters for experimentally


testing the hypotheses, and (3) contributing to the subsequent analysis

and interpretation of the experimental results. Appropriate theory will

then be introduced, and empirical research conducted to provide evidence

for or against acceptance of the hypotheses concerning consumer


A systematic approach of this type is necessary to provide

maximum understanding of consumerism and consumer dissatisfaction, and

to suggest appropriate courses of action for businessmen. In addition,

the study should suggest profitable avenues for continuing research on

this long-run marketing problem.


In this century, the United States has seen the eruption of three

major periods of consumer unrest -- in the early 1900s, the 1930s, and

the current period which began in the 1960s. Each period has emphasized

somewhat different consumer concerns. But all three periods have been

characterized by consumer protests in response to declining consumer

income or higher prices, journalistic exposes of the dangers and

inadequacies of several widely used products, and the emergence of new

organizations supporting additional consumer protection legislation [49].

The current consumer resurgence has exhibited greater prolonged strength

and had more impact on the legal environment of marketing than in any

previous era. During the decade of the Sixties, more major consumer

protection legislation was passed than in the two previous periods of

consumer unrest combined, as illustrated in Table 1.


Major Consumier Protection Laws


(1) Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906
(2) Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914
(3) Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938
(4) Wheeler-Lea Act of 1938
(5) Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939
(6) Fur Products Labeling Act of 1951
(7) Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953
(8) Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958
(9) Textile Fiber Products Identification Act of 1959


(1) Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act of 1960
(2) Kefauver-Harris Drug Amenvnents of 1962
(3) Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965
(4) Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966
(5) Child Safety Act of 1966
(6) National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966
(7) Highway Safety Act of 1966
(8) Wholesome Meat Act of 1967
(9) Flammable Fabrics Act Amendments of 1967
(10) Clinical Laboratories Act of 1967
(11) National Commission on Product Safety Act of 1967
(12) Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968
(13) Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968
(14) Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act of 1968
(15) Wholesome Poultry Products Act of 1968
(16) Fire Research and Safety Act of 1968
(17) Automobile Insurance Study Act of 1968
(18) Toy Safety Act of 1969
(19) Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969


Writers began using the term "consumerism" in the mid-1960s to

refer to "the widening range of activities of government, business, and

independent organizations that are designed to protect individuals from

practices (of both business and government) thut infringe upon their

rights as consumers" [30]. President John F. Kennedy first enumerated

these rights in a special "consumer interest" message to the 87th

Congress in 1962, as follows [62]:

1. lThe right to safety -- to be protected against
the marketing of goods which are hazardous to
health or life

2. The right to be informed -- to be protected
against fTaluulent, idecetful, or grossly
misleading information, advertising, labeling,
or other practices, and to be given the facts
needed to make an informed choice

3. The right to choose -- to be assured, wherever
possible, access to a variety of products and
services at competitive prices, and in those
industries in which competition is not workable
and Government regulation is substituted,
assurance of satisfactory quality and service
at fair prices

4. The right to be heard -- to be assured that
consumer interests will receive full and
sympathetic consideration in the formulation
of Government policy, and fair and expeditious
treatment in its administrative tribunals.

Still in the embryonic stage of definition, "consumerism"

remains a somewhat amorphous concept. Sometimes, it refers to efforts

made by individual citizens, or by public and private organizations to

identify, publicize, and find solutions to marketing problems. At

other times, the concept is expanded to take in a variety of national

environment concerns such as those initially highlighted by Rachel

Carson's Silent Sprinug in 1962 [18]. Buskirk and Rothe have defined

consumerism as "the organized efforts of consumers seeking redress,

restitution and remedy for dissatisfaction they have accumulated in the

acquisition of their standard of living" [12]. This definition ignores

the efforts of individual consumers, implying that only the organized

efforts of consumers have been significant. To date, Stanton has

provided one of the best definitions of consumerism, as follows:

(1) the reaction of consumers to their dissatisfaction and unrealized

expectations and (2) their efforts to have these perceived injustices

remedied [95].

Significance of Consumerism

At first, some business managers tended to dismiss consumerism

as merely a craze that would soon pass away. W. B. Murphy, president

of Campbell Soup Company, once called the movement "a fad, of the same

order as the hula hoop" [74]. Now, however, consumerism is generally

viewed as a long-run force which periodically surges upward in response

to various interrelated changes in the economic, social, political-

legal, ethical, and technological environment. President Nixon has

called it "a healthy development that is here to stay" [75]. A study

committee sponsored by the United States Chamber of Commerce concluded

that economic and social forces in the 1970s will reinforce, not dis-

sipate, the trend toward tougher restrictions designed for consumer

protection. It urged businessmen to respond and respect consumers'

rights, and warned: " must act quickly to preserve its

remaining options in buyer-seller relations" [80]. "Consumerism is a

force of growing power," claims F. Ritter Shumway, president of the

United States Chamber of Commerce, "and the businessman who ignores it

or takes it lightly does so at peril to his very economic survival" [33].

It appears business reaction to consumerism has been largely

critical and deeCnsive [42]. The reasons for this attitude seem to have

stemmed from the following beliefs: (1) that consumerism destroys public

confidence in the free enterprise system, (2) that the market is self-

regulating, and (3) that federal laws tend to deprive consumers of

freedom of choice [42]. Therefore, many businessmen conclude that consumer

protection legislation is undesirable.

Consumerism has been called industry's major problem in the 1970s.

What corporate managers seem to fear most about the consumer movement is

the possibility of legislative "overkill" resulting in a regulatory

straitjacket on marketplace transactions. The importance of this concern

has been attested to by Donald A. Gaudion, Sybron Corporation president

and Chairman of the National Association of Manufacturer's Marketing

Committee, in these words: "NAM considers the 'consumer revolution' to

be a fundamental challenge to the entire manufacturing community which

it represents. At stake is not merely the success of those companies

producing consumer products; at stake is the entire public image of

American industry" [46].

The Consumer Movement

Agriculture Period

In America's era of agriculture,which preceded the Industrial

Revolution, the family was both a producing and consuming unit. Domestic

arts furnished the major share of consumption goods, and the limited

manufacturing was largely accomplished by local craftsmen. An illus-

tration of the dcgreec of self-sufficiency of the pioneer family is

found in the 1787 newspaper publication of a farmer's letter, which

read: "At this time my fann gave me and my whole family a good living

on the product of it, and left me one year with 150 silver dollars, for

I never spent more than ten dollars a year which was for salt, nails,

and the like. Nothing to eat, drink, or wear was bought, as my farm

provided all" [35].

Consumer protection in the marketplace was not a serious problem

when the family itself produced most of the essentials for everyday

life. With home produced goods, the consumer of the goods had first

hand knowledge of their quality and workmalnship. As for the few items

that were purchased, the buyer had a much better understanding of the

techniques of production and the tests of quality than do most consumers

today. Even though the problem of recognizing the comparative quality

of goods was minimal when goods were produced by those who would use

them or by local artisans who were personally known by their customers,

this does not imply that goods were necessarily of better quality than

today. For example, homespun woolen cloth was typically coarse, rough,

and uneven. It could not approach the fine texture made possible by

modern manufacturing techniques. But whatever the quality, it was known

by the purchaser beforehand, so he knew exactly what to expect from the

product. Thus, he was seldom disappointed.

Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution of the 19th century brought an end

to the former close relationship between production and consumption.

With the introduction of more efficient power and machinery into

manufacturing, the development of rail and water transportation, and

the consequent expansion of markets, consumer control over the quality

and prices of goods and services offered him was progressively diminished.

Fewer and fewer products were made in the home or the local shop. The

techniques of production became so complex and so far removed from the

experience of most individuals that it became difficult to judge and

compare product quality. Modern technology enhanced the possibilities

of higher quality and lower cost products, but it widened the range of

possible choice before the consumer and decreased his ability to make

meaningful purchase decisions. At the same time, the industrial revo-

lution allowed productive capacity to surge far ahead of effective demand.

Intense competition drove producers and sellers to advertising and

merchandising schemes which often tended to further confuse consumers.

Early Twentieth Century

The consumer protection movement became active toward the end of

the nineteenth century but it was not until the beginning of the

twentieth century that federal legislators began to respond to public

pressure for more protection in the marketplace.

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the first

consumer protection law. Itprohibitd, fi- z-ulent use of the mails. Eleven

years later, imports of unwholesome tea were outlawed, and in 1890,

importation of adulterated food and drink was made illegal. Although

over one hundred bills were initiated in Congress between 1879 and

1905 to regulate the interstate manufacture and sale of foods and

drugs, none became law [42]. Finally, the lawmakers were galvanized

into action by the public uproar following publication in 1906 of

Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle, which exposed the unsanitary con-

ditions existing in the Chicago meatpacking industry [90]. That same

year, the first Federal Pure Food and Drug Act was passed.

Encouraged by this success, new consumer groups sprang up in

hopes of persuading Congress to provide additional consumer protection

legislation. This was the era of "muckraking" and "progressivism" in

which the press strongly backed consumer interests. Clean Food Clubs,

later called Housewives' Leagues, were organized to aid in the enforce-

ment of the Pure Food and Drug Act and to push for more consumer


In 1909, Samuel Dobbs, sales manager of a nationally known

company and later president of the Associated Advertising Clubs of the

World, began a campaign for honesty in advertising. Two years later,

Printers' Ink, a leading trade publication in advertising and marketing,

printed a model statute to deal with fraud and deception in advertising.

This "Printers' Ink Statute," in various forms, has since been adopted

by most states. A National Vigilance Committee against dishonest

advertising was started in 1912. Later, this organization developed

into the National Better Business Bureau.

Another advance for the consumer movement came with the passage

of the Federal Trade Commission Act in 1914. It set up the Federal

Trade Commission as a continuing body with some business policing powers

directly beneficial to consumers even though its primary intent was to

prevent "unfair methods of competitionn"

Consumer protection activities slid into the background during

the dramatic events of World War I and the postwar prosperity. But

late in the "roaring twenties," the first of the so-called "guinea pig"

books, Your Money's Worth by Stuart Chase and F. J. Schlink, reached

the best seller lists. It was a unique work for it frankly discussed

the weaknesses and strengths of a wide range of products by brand-name.

In addition, the book quoted sixty-two skin specialists who reported

"between them in 1926: 111 cases of poisoning caused by hair dyes;

137 cases of poisoning from the use of face bleaches, face creams,

powder and rouges; 43 cases of poisoning caused by hair tonics" [20].

As a result of his investigation, Schlink organized a consumer's club

in White Plains, New York, in 1929, which was later expanded into Consumers'

Research, the first nonprofit professional product testing organization.

The 1930s

On October 29, 1929, the "stock market crash" marked the end of

postwar prosperity and the beginning of the great depression. Economic

necessity forced most consumers to become extremely conscious of their

buying habits and the value received per dollar expenditure. Absence

of meaningful commodity standards and information soon became painfully

apparent to consumers. As sizes of cans and weights of packages were

progressively reduced, and clothes and shoes wore out faster than

expected, people felt cheated. Quality deterioration became such a

visible complaint that it gave impetus to several new consumer groups

who sought in an organized] way to remedy the situation. Writing for

the Harvard Business Review in 1939, Kenneth Dia:eron stated that the

consumer movement was in reality "a series of efforts having in comnion

the feeling of dissatisfaction with goods and services and the marketing

practices involved in their distribution" [29].

Shortly after passage of the 1906 Pure Food and D)rug Act, its

weaknesses had been recognized, but nothing was done to strengthen the

law. Finally, however, necessity for a change was brought dramatically

to public attention in 1936 after the death of 73 people from use of the

patent medicine "Elixis Sulfanilamide" [94]. A Federal Food, Drug, and

Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938. That same year, the Iheeler-Lea Act,

an important amendment to the Federal Trade Commission Act, provided

consumers protection from "unfair or deceptive acts or practices."

For the first time, the Federal Trade Commission was able to prosecute

for deceptive advertising or sales practices without having to show

injury to competition.

There were numerous events and developments which spurred the

consumer movement in the 1930s, such as: (1) the publication of several

best-selling books in which the authors convinced many readers that

consumers do not get their '"money's worth" [20, 58, 78, 83, 85, 48, 68,

65]; (2) the establishment of various organizations for testing products

and advising consumers; (3) the depression which compelled consumers to

seek maximum value for their dollar and stimulated the interest of many

politicians in consumer problems; and (4) the rapid spread of consumer

education in school curricula [94].

In 1939, Gubler described consular activities of the 'lhirties

in these words [41]:

The consumer movement in the widest sense of the
term consists of all the efforts, organized or
unorganized, to make the consumer a wiser buyer
and user of those products and services which she
requires in her capacity as a consumer. The
purpose of these efforts is to raise the standard
of living of the consumer by making her recognize
more clearly her wants and needs and by equipping
her with knowledge and factual information to help
her satisfy them.

The specific objectives of the consumer movement during this

period were: (1) to eliminate deceit and fraud, including short weight

and measurements, adulteration, the sale of harmful products, and

misrepresentation of products by salesmen and in advertising; (2) to

promote grading and information labeling, advertising, and selling,

with a view to obtaining useful information for buyers; (3) to promote

the education of the individual consumer in effective buying; and (4) to

lower the cost of distribution [21].

The 1940s and 1950s

With the entry of the United States into World War II, government

intervention in the marketplace became necessary. Price and credit

controls were enacted to regulate consumer spending and prevent rampant

inflation, and the consumer movement faded into the background again.

At the same time, a system of rationing was used to distribute scarce

consumer products. Consumer organizations were encouraged by the

government to cooperate with organized labor, agriculture, and industry

for the national welfare. Thus, an interplay of political, economic,


social, and international factors accounted for Much of the dormancy of

the consumer m]ovemelnt during this wartime period. After World War II,

economic and social adjustment and the subsequent Korean Conflict

dominated national and individual attention. Nevertheless, there were

some significant laws passed, such as: (1) the Fur Products Labeling

Act of 1951; (2) the Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953; (3) the Automobile

Information Disclosure Act of 1958; and (4) the Textile Fiber Products

Identification Act of 1959.

The 1960s

The current wave of consumerism which began in the 1960s has been

described as kaleidoscopic in nature since its pattern has tended to

shift and change. Today, not only does it embrace the traditional

issues of product safety and product information but a spectrum of

concerns about the quality of the physical environment, such as air,

water, and noise pollution [30].

As the consumer movement has gathered momentum, its scope has

expanded as might be expected of a movement comprising so many different

perspectives concerning the consumer interest and ways to achieve it.

There does not seem to be a comprehensive philosophy or program of

action as the issues have arisen in somewhat erratic fashion. During

the Sixties, consumerism has covered such disconnected topics as:

automobile safety, truth in packaging and lending, meat inspection, high

food prices, gas pipeline safety, tire performance, cigarette advertising,

fishery plant inspection, fat frankfurters, birth control, "empty

calories" of breakfast cereals, hospital care, low-income housing, coal

mine safety, radiation control, public utility rates, effectiveness of

drugs, cyclamates and DDT dangers, toy safety, misleading television

advertising aimed at children, and a host of environmental pollution

and wildlife preservation concerns.

Discontented consumers are not a homogeneous group [49].

Consumerism represents a conglomeration of groups, each with its awn

emphasis, who tend to fonr temporary alliances to back particular

measures. At various times, these groups include consumer cooperatives,

labor unions, educators, credit unions, product testing and consumer

education organizations, congressmen, and self-appointed consumer

crusaders such as Ralph Nader. These several groups can be divided

into three categories [49]:

Adaptationists -- who stress educating the consumer
to function intelligently in the market. (educators)

Protectionists -- who are mainly concerned with
health and safety of individuals. (scientists,
physicians, and nutritionists)

Reformers -- who want to achieve the above goals
and obtain greater recognition of consumer interests
in government. (students, political liberals)

Opinions differ among "business-oriented" and'consumer-oriented"

individuals, as well as government and the public at large, about what

consumerism is and represents [42]. According to the President's

Committee on Consumer Interests, today's consumer activity is largely

due to "a new awareness by millions of Americans that they have rights

and responsibilities as consumers, just as they do as voters or wage

earners or producers" [79]. In general, the movement today seeks to

protect and advance these rights as first identified by President Kennedy;

namely: (1) the right to product safety; (2) the right to product

choice; (3) the right to product information; and (4) the right to be

heard. To assure the consumers' right to be heard, President Kennedy

created-a Consumer Advisory Council in 1962 to represent consumers.

Then, two years later, President Johnson appointed Mrs. Esther Peterson

as his Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs and established the

President's Committee on Consumer Interests. Johnson, however, failed

to lend much personal support until his "consumer interests message"

in March, 1966. Soon, a torrent of bills were introduced at all levels

of government as many politicians began to see consumer legislation as

an "inexpensive" way to build an impressive domestic legislative record

and placate irate consumers in an inflationary period [49]. After a

gradual price rise of about 1 percent yearly in the early 1960s, a 5

percent jump in 1966 jolted some consumers into a series of supermarket

picketing incidents on the west coast late in the year. Continuation

of rapid inflation (5-6 percent annually) through 1970, simultaneous

with high unemployment in the last two years, has further contributed

to consumer discontent.

President Nixon seems to be cautiously advancing consumer causes.

He has established a new Consumer Protection Division in the Department

of Justice to defend the public from several specific unfair and

deceptive practices, such as "bait and switch" advertising (where the

consumer is attracted by a low-cost item, then switched to a more

expensive product), selling used goods as new, and misrepresenting price

reductions. In addition, he has recommended a Consumer Product Testing

Bill to Congress and verbally supported legislation to allow groups of

consumers to band together in "class actions" to sue manufacturers for

fraudulent practices after successful completion of government action.

However, none of the major bills being sought by consumer groups were

enacted by the 91st Congress.

A significant distinction of the current consumer movement from

those of the 1930s and 1900s is the development of means to translate

dissatisfaction into effective pressure on government. As shown in

Table 1, twice as much consumer protection legislation was enacted in

the decade of the Sixties as in all the previous years of the twentieth

century together. One of the basic reasons for this large output of

protective legislation is the appearance of many consumer spokesmen who

have not only been able to identify and publicize problems, but have

also been able to follow up with workable programs. And, as in past

eras of consumer discontent, there have been numerous books that have

helped arouse public feeling [77, 18, 73, 66, 27, 70, 72, 26, 2, 86, 93].

Besides Consumers Union, which continues to be influential in

advising consumers, testifying before legislative hearings, and reporting

the results of comparative product tests on major brands in its monthly

publication, Consumer Reports, two other independent consumer organi-

zations are being established. The Consumer Federation of America (CFA),

These consumer leaders include such people as: Ralph Nader, Esther
Peterson, Betty Furness, Virginia Knauer, Bess Myerson Grant, Senators
Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.), Frank Moss (D-Utah), Abraham Ribicoff
(D-Conn.), Philip Hart (D-Mich.), William Proxmire (D-Wis.), Gaylord
Nelson (D-Wis.), Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), and Congressmen Benjamin
Rosenthal (D-N.Y.), John Moss (D-Col.), Wright Patman (D-Tex.), John
Dingell (D-Mich.), and Leonor Sullivan (D-Mo.).

which seeks to coordinate lobbying and other activities of the various

national and local "consumer-interest" groups, and Ralph Nader's new

Center for Study of Responsive Law will soon provide support to Consumers

Union in uncovering and dramatizing consumer issues.

Finally, the impact of consumerism in the 1960s has been magnified

by a number of catalysts, namely [12]:

1. higher education level, rising income, and more
leisure time have increased the consumer's
desire for individuality in his purchases while
the market generally furnishes mass-consumption
products with which the individual is not com-
pletely satisfied;

2. higher prices have led consumers to higher
quality expectations which are often not being

3. demands for new products and product improvements
have led to greater product complexity which has
caused increased servicing problems; and

4. widespread publicity by the mass media and
support at the highest political levels have
enabled consumer dissatisfaction to be trans-
lated into responsive legislation.

Underlying Reasons for Consumerism

Each period of consumer unrest has been stirred by some catalyst --

usually declining real income or higher prices and publicity given some

product tragedy, safety or health hazard, or misrepresentation -- but

the root problem in all cases seems to be the perceived inadequacy of

meaningful product standards and information. Many feel demands for

relevant, accurate information will continue to be the major outcry of

consumers in the 1970s. Consumer dissatisfaction with the present amount

and quality of information available to them has been exacerbated by two

other factors: (1) growing distance between sellers and buyers, and

(2) rising consumer expectations.

Buyer-Seller Distance

Increasing impersonalization of society in general and the market

system in particular has been cited often as a catalyst for consumerism

[57]. Mass merchandising techniques, while improving living standards,

have expanded the physical and psychological distance between sellers

and their customers. This is evidenced by a climb of only 62.9 percent

for retail sales during the 1960s, while chain store sales jumped nearly

100 percent and discount store sales soared 1,100 percent [87].

Introduction of the computer has also played a part, for it has tended

to rigidify business policies and communications with customers.

Unfortunately, with the increased mobility of today's sales

force (it is not unusual for stores to experience a 20-30 percent

personnel turnover yearly) [88], many retail sales personnel are not

familiar with the technical advantages and quality of the products they

sell. In the early days of retailing, when the seller knew his customers

by name and face, a sales job was a lifetime position. The salesman

had a long history of experience with a product and could readily explain

most features. Proliferation of complex new products has also added to

the difficulty of the salesman in understanding his merchandise.

Rising Expectations

American business is generally considered to be doing a better

job for consumers than ever before. According to Otto Kleppner,

"...Today's average refrigerator has a far better refrigerant, a better

motor, better insulation, and larger storage space than the costliest

model of twenty years ago. Canned soups today have better enriched

recipes than when you were a youngster, and are offered in greater

variety. Today's tires give over four times the mileage per dollar

(aside from excise taxes) of those of twenty years ago, in addition to

giving you a smoother and safer ride" [63]. In further support of this

contention, Time magazine (December 12, 1969, p. 92) reported that the

average buyer probably gets more value per dollar spent in a current

mailorder house catalogue than in an edition 50 years ago. Why, then,

do we have so many complaints against products and the rising demand

for consumer protection legislation?

Arjay R. Miller, former Ford vice-chairman and now dean of

Stanford's Graduate School of Business, attributes the growing consumer

irritation with the slightest flaw to the "phenomenon of rising

expectations" [109]. Largely due to the increase in consumer affluence

and sophistication, the threshold of acceptable performance is rising

[4]. Younger, wealthier, better educated, and more sophisticated

consumers seem to be less tolerant of gaps between promotional promise

and product performance. Even though Galbraith called America an

affluent society in 1958, the average family's income has climbed (even

In mid-1970, Mrs. Virginia H. Knauer, Special Assistant to the
President for Consumer Affairs, reported that the President's
Committee on Consumer Interests (PCCI) was being deluged with 3500
letters per month, nearly double the number received from consumers
last year. See [110].

accounting for inflation) from $6,900 to $9,400 over the last decade

while the proportion of the nation's 63 million families with basic

appliances -- refrigerator, radio, range, and electric iron -- went

over the 99 percent mark [43]. In 1960, only 41 percent of adults 25

years of age and older had completed high school [98]. Today, 55 percent

in this age group have a high school diploma, and 11 percent now have

college degrees as compared with just 8 percent a decade ago. In 1965,

41 million American families were headed by individuals under 35 years

of age. Today, the number exceeds 45 million [87].

Another factor contributing to rising expectations in general

has been the remarkable space feats. Sputnik provided a dramatic

awakening of people to the immense possibilities for scientific

achievements. Americans became more impatient in dealing with problems.

It was reasoned that if we can put a man on the moon, why cannot we

find a cure for cancer, eliminate pollution and poverty, and make

products that do not fail? Mass communications (television and the

transistor radio) and the great mobility of people carried the message

of hope and high expectations worldwide [105].

According to the National Chamber of Commerce, the consumer of

the present and future "expects more information about the products and

services he buys. He places greater emphasis on product performance,

quality, and safety. He is more aware of his 'rights' as a consumer

and is more responsive than ever to political initiatives to protect

these rights" [81]. Consumers are becoming more discriminating,

increasingly less willing to tolerate substandard, unsafe, or misad-

vertised goods, i.e., product claims which their own experience does

not bear out [106].


History shows that expectations and standards steadily rise.

Practices and perfonrances which are considered acceptable today will

gradually be viewed as unsatisfactory and be replaced by more demanding

ones. No one can predict expectations. They are infinitely elastic

because expectations contain a reflection of infinity, a yearning for

the absolute.



There have been three stages of American managerial orientation

in the twentieth century: (1) production, 1900-1930; (2) sales, 1930-

1950; and (3) marketing concept, 1950-present. Since the early 1950s,

when the business environment shifted from a sellers' market to a buyers'

market, the marketing concept has been highly publicized as a fundamental

business philosophy. Though various scholars have defined the marketing

concept in different ways, Buell says: "they all come down to the fact

that a business, if it is to grow profitably, must be oriented toward

fulfilling the needs and wants of its potential customers more effi-

ciently than do its competitors" [10]. The marketing concept insists

that companies be guided by the single logic of customer-need satis-

faction at a profit [64].

While most businessmen today affirm their belief in the efficacy

of "profits through customer satisfaction," the marketing concept and

the forces labeled consumerism are incompatible. Peter Drucker

elaborates: "Consumerism means that the consumer looks upon the

manufacturer as somebody who has not made the effort to find out, who

does not understand the world in which the consumer lives, and who

expects the consumer to be able to make distinctions which the consumer

is neither willing nor able to make" [34]. A special Business Week

report declares: "In the very broadest sense, consumerism can be

defined as the bankruptcy of what the business schools have been

calling the marketing concept..." [11]. Buskirk and Rothe, however,

point out that the marketing concept may still be valid but it has not

been successfully applied [12].

Why has business failed to be successful in their application

of the marketing concept? Though the basic objective of marketing

organizations should be customer satisfaction, McNeal claims, based on

a survey of 128 finns from Fortune's 500, that this goal is virtually

ignored in measuring marketing effectiveness [67]. Instead, attention

is focused on measuring effectiveness in terms of other marketing

objectives such as profit, sales, or share of market. Logically, if

customer satisfaction is the primary objective of business, should not

it be measured directly? The answer to this question, declares McNeal,

is not apparent in the literature and constitutes "both a gap and a dead

end in marketing principles" [67].

Consumer Sovereignty

One reason for the failure of business to stress measurement of

consumer satisfaction in determining marketing effectiveness may be

skepticism about the basic assumption of the marketing concept; namely,

consumer sovereignty.

There are two major opposing theories concerning the role of the

consumer in the marketplace of a free enterprise system. One theory,

depicted in Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders and frequently used by

other critics of marketing, views the consumer as a pawn skillfully

manipulated by Madison Avenue. Therefore, it is postulated, marketers

need not be guided by the concept of sensitively satisfying human needs

since a clever promotional mix will persuade consumers to buy the

available products.

A contrasting theory assumes "consumer sovereignty" and claims

that it is the consumer's dollar votes in the market which determine

the success or failure of competing firms. According to the marketing

concept, this second view is the correct one. Realistically, however,

there is some truth in both theories. For instance, John Kenneth

Galbraith questions the dollar vote assumption which presumes consumer

sovereignty. He illustrates his point in this way [97]:

The cities are clogged with automobiles and have
been extensively devoured by highways and freeways.
Mass or commuter transit is slow, unreliable,
uncomfortable, and filthy. If the consumer is
sovereign, that, presumably, is the way he wants
it; one sighs and knuckles under to the popular
taste. But if the producer is sovereign and the
automobile companies, as seems likely, are con-
siderably more sovereign than most, we have here
a reflection not of consumer but producer preference.

Other contemporary economists, while recognizing the central

role of consumer choice, are questioning some of the assumptions

underlying the idea of consumer sovereignty in traditional economic

analysis. First, it was assumed that consumers had complete information

about products. However, the cornucopia of increasingly complex new

products has made it virtually impossible for the typical consumer to

have complete information regarding the comparative merits of competing

products. Supermarkets, alone, add from 800 to 1,350 new items annually

while dropping an average of 1,000 [100]. Consumer choice is oftentimes

madeeven more difficult by conflicting advertising claims. E. B. Weiss

says: "When every detergent gets clothes whiter, brighter, cleaner,

sweeter-smelling than any other; when every toothpaste is better than

every other in preventing tooth decay; when every gasoline makes your

car run better than any other, what is the consumer to believe since

the claims can't all be true?" [106]. To some observers, the most

critical problem in the marketplace is the imperfection in the state

of information in consumer markets. They tend to believe that our

competitive free enterprise system would be sufficient to protect

consumers if they could learn quickly about available brands, prices,

and product characteristics [52].

Secondly, traditional economics assumed the existence of large

numbers of competing sellers of a single homogeneous product. Today,

however, most industries are dominated by a relatively small group of

firms selling differentiated products. The differentiation, of course,

may often be more psychological than functional -- sometimes consisting

merely of persuasive advertising claims or distinctive packaging.

The third assumption about which there is doubt regarding its

applicability to today marketing economy is the process by which

consumer wants are formed. Early views were that the consumer had

complete knowledge of his wants and attempted to purchase goods that

would deliver the most utility or satisfaction according to his tastes

and relative prices. Galbraith, however, argues that modern mass

production and promotion actually create needs and wants in the minds

of consumers [44].

In view of these apparent limitations of consumer sovereignty

and the domination of many markets by finrs with some degree of

monopoly power, consumer advocates believe that it was inevitable that

many discontented consumers would begin taking positive action to regain

their relative power position in the market vis-a-vis business.

Balance of Power

In his Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith indicated that the market

mechanism was self-regulating. He seemed to feel that enlightened

self-interest regulated by competition would operate as an "invisible

hand" to bring about social harmony and rising living standards. Some

of Smith's followers have interpreted this to imply the necessity for

a total laissez-faire policy on the part of government. Contrary to

such interpretation, however, Smith expressed a general uneasiness

regarding the relationship between the interests of producers and

consumers, as illustrated by these words [91]:

The interest of the dealers, however, in any
particular branch of trade, or manufacturers,
is always in some respects different from, and
even opposite to, that of the public. To widen
the market and to narrow the competition, is
always the interest of the dealers.... The
proposal of any new law or regulation of com-
merce which comes from this order, ought always
to be listened to with great precaution, and
ought never to be adopted till after having
been long and carefully examined, not only with
the most scrupulous, but the most suspicious
attention. It comes from an order of men, whose
interest is never exactly the same with that of
the public, who have generally an interest to
deceive and even to oppress the public, and who
accordingly have, upon many occasions, both
deceived and oppressed it.

Within the United States, the responsibility for consumer

protection in the marketplace has been shared by the federal, state

and local governments. The Conistitution restricts the regulation of

commerce by the federal government to interstate commerce. State and

local governments are responsible for the regulation of intrastate

commerce. For many years, consumer protection was almost wholly the

job of state and local government. But, with the advance of modern

marketing, consumer products have been produced in central locations

and distributed on an interstate basis, and the responsibility of the

federal government to the consumer has correspondingly increased.

The controversy continues between those who denounce increasing

government control in the marketplace and those who insist that only

government intervention can solve certain consumer and business problems.

As the dynamic marketing environment changes, the relationship between

business and government which is acceptable during one period may become

manifestly unsatisfactory in another. Any alteration in this delicate

balance, in either direction, needs careful study with regard to its

probable impact on attainment of society's goals -- not merely material

goods and services but also protection of individual freedoms.

In terms of their influence on marketing, Brown has identified

two major categories of regulations: (1) those intended to preserve

the competitive nature of our free enterprise system and (2) those

designed to protect consumers from misinformation or the lack of

information [9]. Although the protection of competition poses some

complex problems such as distinguishing between desirable and undesirable

modes of competition, Congress and the courts have dealt rather

extensively with this typc of regulation beginning with the Sherman

Antitrust Act in 1890. The resurgence of the consumer movement in

the 1960s has brought the second type of marketing regulation to

center-stage. A i;ultiplicity of intricate products has apparently

left many consumers without sufficient information or technical

knowledge to make confident, intelligent buying decisions. As

President Nixon stated in his 'consu~or rights' message to Congress:

"Products, themselves, are more complicated. There is more about them

that can go wrong and less about them that can readily be understood

by laymen" [75]. The consumer requires some given amount of relevant

information if he is to achieve satisfaction from his purchases, and

if the competitive system is to operate efficiently.


Sources of Information

The expectations customers have regarding a particular product

depend upon information gathered from a variety of sources. Past

experience, promotional communi cations of sellers, and personal

acquaintances are the most conunon sources of product information.

If a product is purchased frequently, the consumer may have a satis-

factory information source -- his previous experience with it. In

such a case, he is able to judge, prior to purchase, the product's

effectiveness in meeting his expectations, both functional and

psychological. Conversely, when purchasing an untried product or

brand of significant importance, the consumer may find a meaningful

choice difficult because of the lack of information. Since he has

not previously purchased this product, he must rely on information

sources other than his personal experience. Another source may be

his associates, but the limited accuracy and nontransferability of

this experience to his own situation often sharply limits its value.

Ratings by private, independent organizations are often regarded as

excellent sources but tend to be used by those who least need help in

purchasing decisions. For example, the most recent survey of sub-

scribers to Consumers Union showed the median income is $14,000 and

58 percent are college graduates [49]. Thus, it appears that many

consumers depend largely on one basic information source -- the

company promotion mix -- in forming their expectations regarding new

or untried products.

Information Flows

Information flows are critical to marketing management because,

as Alderson stresses, heterogeneous markets (i.e., where there is

diversity of both demand and supply) are cleared by information [1].

Markets are characterized by a double search wherein consumers are

looking for products and suppliers are looking for customers, so

information flows in both directions. Consumers provide information

by specifying their requirements and the supplier provides information,

along with his persuasive appeal, by identifying his product -- but

rarely completely since the cost of perfect information is prohibitive.

Alderson illustrates the supplier's identification of his product and

the consumer's specification of the product desired by two partially

overlapping circles. Communication takes place only in the overlapping

area. A major problem in the process, though, is that much of the

information supplied is not the infoniation being sought; that is,

there is a mismatch of information.

One reason for this information mismatch may be that most of

the emphasis in designing a promotional mix is on one-way communication

from the business organization to its target markets. The other flow

in this communication system, from consumer to firm, is often neglected.

In this age of consumerism, it seems critical that more emphasis be

placed on obtaining continuous customer feedback or a reverse infor-

mation flow- carrying consumer attitudes and opinions back to the

company. A skillful marketer knows that he must communicate with

consumers, not just to them.

Information Gap

Proponents of consumerism claim that corporate marketing programs

are not providing the information necessary for meaningful choice,

and point to inaccurate, misleading, and inadequate information as

major reasons for the demand for more consumer protection legislation

[96]. This alleged information gap seems paradoxical in view of the

extensive corporate communication efforts. Consumerism advocates,

however, tend to argue that too much of this communication stresses

persuasion and imagery at the expense of other more relevant information.

The consumer movement seems to be demanding that manufacturers and

merchants provide additional information, such as: product performance

characteristics, safety standards, simple warranties, and pricing per

standard unit. It is implied that this information will narrow the

schism between consumer product expectations and perceptions of product

performance, thereby improving customer-firm relationships.

Many consumer protectionists see improvements in advertising as

the best means.of spanning the information gap. Instead of adding

confusion to an already complex marketplace, advertising, they insist,

could be developing well-informed consumers by providing relevant and

reliable information for use in making accurate buying judgments. This

proposition maintains that well-informed individuals would not unknow-

ingly buy inferior products, leading to dissatisfaction and demands for

more consumer protection legislation. Given enough relevant information,

it is claimed, the consumer would be able to form realistic expectations

about products and be able to protect himself from those evils from which

the government is now trying to shield him [55].

Consumer Dissatisfaction

The Random House Dictionary states: "Dissatisfaction results

from contemplating what falls short of one's wishes or expectations and

is usually only temporary." Based on this definition, one might

hypothesize that consumer dissatisfaction is a result of market

offerings which fall short of consumer expectations. This is a falsi-

fiable proposition that can be tested. It may be that corporate

promotional mixes are creating unrealistic expectations for products

which result in consumer dissatisfaction upon purchase and use of the

product. Buskirk and Rothe go so far as to say that "It is this sense

of frustration and bitterness on the part of consumers who have been

promised much and have realized less, that may properly be called the


driving force behind consumer ism" [12]. Joseph Marti, Jr., general

counsel of the Federal Trade Commission, urges: 'This performance gap

must be closed. It is only a matter of who is going to do the closing"

[45]. This apparent gap between promise and performance may be largely

responsible for rising support for legal enforcement of minimum performance


If business is providing communication that raises consumer

expectations beyond a realistic level, then it is important to learn

what kind of communication should be provided -- presumably still

persuasive in nature but different in content. Knowledge about the

effect of consumer expectations and perceived product performance on

satisfaction is vital because management can, within limits, influence

customer expectations and product performance.

Over-zealous new product development programs may have caused

corporate management to neglect consumer expectations and perceived

product performance with all their implications for the promotional

mix. For example, if consumer expectations are a function of promotion

and consumer satisfaction is a function of expectations, then satis-

faction may be considered a function of promotion. This suggested

relationship between satisfaction and expectations aroused by promotion

implies that finns may need to stimulate a level of consumer expectations

compatible with objective product performance in order to achieve repeat

purchases and sustain high sales volume with maximum customer


Interrelated Variables

The three variables need clarification if we are to meaningfully

discuss the interrelationships among expectations, perceived product

performance, and consumer satisfaction.


Expectations have been described as "subjective notions of

things to come" [59]. An expectancy is a type of hypothesis formulated

by the consumer, and his perception of product performance after

purchase and use will serve to either confirm or reject this hypothesis

[36]. Expectations are confirmed when a consumer receives what he

expects. Negative disconfirmation takes place when the product's

actual or objective performance cannot match expectations for it.

Positive disconfirmation may occur when objective product performance

actually exceeds expectations.

Expectations may be created and strengthened by corporate

promotional mixes, past experiences, opinions of friends and

associates, impartial product rating services, or general aspiration

levels. Writers frequently refer to consumer "attitudes" or "aspira-

tions," or "images" of products, brands, or stores, and these terms

may be considered implicit forms of expectations [69]. For example,

when a consumer expresses a favorable attitude toward a product, he may

say: "That's a good product," but in translation, he means that he

confidently expects that product to provide certain specific benefits.

There seems little doubt that consumer expectations are important

determinants of shopping and purchase behavior [14].

Product perception

Perception can be thought of as the individual' mental impression

of a stimulus object, in this case, a product. No two people perceive

a product exactly alike because no two people have the same view of

their environment. Perception has four major facets. First, it is

selective. Since an individual cannot possibly be cognizant of all

the stimulus objects within his perceptual field, he perceives

selectively. Secondly, perception is organized in that it has

meaning for the individual. Third, perception depends upon stimulus

factors, e.g., advertising in consumer product evaluations. Fourth,

perception is influenced by personal factors, i.e., what the individual

brings to the situation. The consumer's view of the world, or his

cognitive set, is formed over time, and reflects his physiological and

psychological characteristics as well as his needs, moods, and values,

past experience, and the nature of his environment [82]. In the present

study, consumer perception of the product will be called "perceived

product performance." "Actual" or "objective" product performance will

be used in referring to reality, or true product performance.

Consumer satisfaction

No satisfactory literal definition has yet been developed for

consumer or customer satisfaction. There have been few attempts to

measure consumer satisfaction, and no precise measurements have been

reported in the literature of marketing and economics.

Inferring from our above definition of the source of dissatis-

faction, one mijht postulate that satisfaction results when consumer

expectations are matched (or exceeded) by perceived product performance.

Consumer dissatisfaction, then, might be measured by the degree of

disparity between expectations and perceived product performance.

However, there has been no rigorous explanation of the interrelations

among expectations, perceptions of product performance, and consumer

satisfaction. Although Katona has conducted substantial research

concerning the influence on purchase behavior of consumers' expecta-

tions of general economic conditions, his work has not dealt with

the effects of confirmation and disconfirmation of product expectations

on consumer satisfaction [60].

Except for the field of psychology, the literature of the social

sciences contains few references to any systematic studies relating to

the effects on people of disparity between their expectations and

actual performances. However, since consumer satisfaction is such a

fundamental problem to human behavior, it is only logical that one turn

to psychology -- the discipline which deals specifically with human

behavior -- to develop a theoretical framework for the present




An expectancy has been defined as a type of hypothesis formulated

by the consumer which is either confirmed or rejected by his perception

of product performance after purchase and use. If the expectation is

confirmed, reinforcement of the buyer's behavior takes place. But

what happens if the expectancy is not confirmed?

Theoretical Models

In predicting the effects on product evaluation and customer

satisfaction of disparity between expectations and objective product

performance, at least four psychological theories may be considered;

namely: (1) cognitive dissonance (assimilation); (2) contrast;

(3) generalized negativity; and (4) assimilation-contrast. Each

theory makes a different prediction regarding unconfirmed expectancies.

Dissonance or assimilation theory posits that any discrepancy between

expectations and product performance will be minimized or assimilated

by the customer adjusting his perception of the product so that it

becomes more consistent (less dissonant) with his expectations.

Contrast theory assumes that the customer will magnify the

difference between the product received and the product expected;

i.e., if the objective performance of the product fails to meet his

expectations, the customer will evaluate the product less favorably

than if he had no prior expectations for it. Contrast is thus the

converse of assimilation.

The generalized negativity thesis is that any discrepancy

between expectations and reality results in a generalized negative

hedonic state which causes the product to receive a more unfavorable

rating than if it had coincided with expectations. Even if the product's

performance exceeds the customer's expectations, it will be perceived

as less satisfying than its objective performance would justify.

Finally, the assimilation-contrast approach maintains that there

are zones or latitudes of acceptance and rejection in consumer

perceptions. If the disparity between expectations and product per-

formance is sufficiently small to fall into the consumer's latitude

of acceptance, he will tend to assimilate the difference by rating

the product more in line with expectations than its objective per-

formance justifies. However, if the discrepancy between expectations

and actual product performance is so large that it falls into the

zone of rejection, then a contrast effect comes into play and the

consumer magnifies the perceived disparity between the product and

his expectations for it.

Which theory is correct? What is the effect on consumer

product perception and satisfaction when expectancies are disconfirmed?

To approach the answer to this question, it is necessary to review

these theories in more depth and analyze the evidence supporting each


Cognitive Dissonance

An unconfiimed expectancy, according to Festinger's theory of

cognitive dissonance, creates a state of dissonance or "psychological

discomfort" because the outcome contradicts the consumer's original

hypothesis [38, 39]. The theory suggests that an individual has

cognitive elements (or knowledgees) about himself, his past behavior,

his beliefs and attitudes, and his environments [76]. Consumers are

continually receiving various kinds of information about products from

their own experience, associates, advertisements, and salesmen. These

bits of information are cognitions which consumers like to have consis-

tent with one another [50]. When one cognitive element follows from

another, they are said to be consonant. However, if one does not follow

from another, they are said to be dissonant and lead to psychological

tension called cognitive dissonance. In other words, when an individual

receives two ideas which are psychologically inconsistent (dissonant),

he experiences mental discomfort which he attempts to reduce -- often

by changing or distorting one or both of the cognitions to make them

more consonant with each other. The stronger the cognitive dissonance,

the more motivated he is to reduce dissonance by changing the cognitive

element [8].

Marketing implications

As applied to marketing, if there is a disparity between

expectations for a product and the objective performance of that

product, the consumer is stimulated to reduce the psychological tension

generated by changing his perception of the product so that it comes

more into line with his expectations. Therefore, if this proposition

is true, the promotional mix for a product should substantially lead

expectations above product performance in order to obtain a higher

consumer evaluation or perception of the company's product. This

concept is illustrated in Figure 1 by the dotted line which shows that

perceived product performance is always between objective performance

and expectations, except when all three coincide. Several studies have

suggested that this strategy can be effective [54, 23, 22, 107, 31].

However, considerable controversy and some disaffection with the theory

of cognitive dissonance have developed in recent years due to the

accumulation of an increasing amount of contradictory evidence [56, 84,

19, 37]. One major criticism is that the theory assumes that the

individual, instead of learning from his purchasing mistakes, actually

increases the probability of making them again through his efforts to

reduce post-purchase dissonance by justification and rationalization

of his decision [24].


Even in the studies supporting assimilation theory, some

individuals tend to shift their attitudes and evaluations away from

expectations aroused by communications if inconsistent with reality

[53]. When expectations are not matched by actual product performance,

contrast theory presumes that the surprise effect or contrast between

expectations and outcome will cause the consumer to exaggerate or

magnify the disparity. For example, suppose an individual goes to a

theater to see a movie which, based on newspaper advertising, he expects

to be excellent but the story turns out to be disappointing. The sharp



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contrast between his cxpcctati ons and the actual perfoniance may cause

him to so magnify the disparity that he calls it a very poor movie.

Marketing implications

Contrast theory would predict consumer product perceptions as

shown by the dashed line in Figure 1. That is, perceived product

performance would always magnify the difference between expectations

and objective product performance. This theory would suggest that

slight understatement of the product's qualities in advertising might

lead to higher customer satisfaction with the company's product. Of

course, the advertisement could not so understate the product's qualities

that customers by-pass it for another brand. Several studies lend

support to the possible success of this promotional strategy [32, 108,

40, 89, 53, 92]. To date, the only published experiment in the

marketing literature dealing with the effects of disconfirmed expec-

tations on consumer evaluation of products provided partial support

for contrast theory albeit findings were divided into support of

assimilation theory as well [14]. Cardozo attempted to reconcile the

difference between assimilation theory and contrast theory by intro-

duction of another variable, shopping effort, into the decision process.

Specifically, he found that customer product evaluation or satisfaction

is lower when the product does not measure up to expectations but

satisfaction rises as effort expended to obtain the product increases.

Contrary to the usual idea of the importance of marketing efficiency

and customer convenience, these results suggest that an arduous shopping

experience might yield greater satisfaction than an easily made purchase

[15]. Cardozo did not test the effects of a positive disconfirmation

(results exceed cxpectati ons) so this question remains for some ground-

breaking research.

Generalized Negativity

A classic study of the consequences of unconfirmed expectations

was conducted by Carlsmithl and Aronson [17]. In a test of their

hypothesis that any disconfirmation of an expected result will be

perceived as less pleasant or less satisfying than if the expectancy

had been confirmed, they asked individuals to taste bitter and sweet

solutions, manipulated their expectations regarding the tastes, and

measured the ratings under the various conditions. It was assumed

that bitter was an unpleasant taste and sweet was a pleasant taste for

the majority of subjects. Ile experimenters reported that when a

subject expected sweet and got bitter, he described it as more bitter

(less pleasant) than if he had expected the bitter. Conversely, when

the subject expected bitter and got sweet, he described it as less

sweet (again, less pleasant) than when he expected sweet. The Carlsmith

and Aronson findings seem to suggest opposing theories. When the sweet

solution was expected and the bitter solution tasted, a disconfirned

expectancy resulted in a rating of more bitter which would support

contrast theory. On the other hand, when the bitter solution was

expected but the sweet solution came up, a disconfirmed expectancy

resulted in a rating of less sweet or assimilation toward the expected

taste in support of dissonance theory. Carlsmith and Aronson explain

this apparent conflict by arguing that any disconfirmed expectancy

results in a hedonically negative state which is generalized to objects

in the environment. Thus, one can make the following prediction: If

a customer expects a particular performance from a product (x) but a

different performance (y) occurs, he will judge (y) to be less pleasant

than if he had no previous expectancy.

Marketing implications

The Carlsmith and Aronson findings suggest that promotional

claims aimed at target customers should seek to generate expectations

which are consistent with actual product performance. In Figure 1,

the Carlsmitth and Aronson theory of generalized negativity is depicted

by the line of alternating dots and dashes. Note that perceived product

performance is always less favorable than objective performance would

justify whenever there is disparity between expectations and objective

performance. Only when expectations and product performance coincide

is the consumer's evaluation of the product as favorable as its

objective performance.

Although several experiments have illustrated the existence of

dissatisfaction after the disconfirmation of a positive expectation

(expectations exceed performance), it is more difficult to demonstrate

the existence of dissatisfaction after the disconfirmation of a negative

expectancy (performance exceeds expectations). For instance, Tinklepaugh

discovered that monkeys became quite upset when they expected to find a

banana under a cup and instead found a lettuce leaf -- even though

monkeys generally like lettuce but do prefer bananas [101]. When

Tinklepaugh reversed the conditions, the monkeys did not exhibit negative

reactions. Therefore, the conclusion from the Aronson and Carlsmith

study (that dissatisfaction can occur even when actual results exceed

expectations) is rather surprising [3].

__ _I____ 1 __L __

Wateriiuani and Ford, however, question these findings [104]. In

the Aronson and Carlsmith study, dissatisfaction was measured by the

extent to which subjects changed their responses on short-answer. tests

when given "prearranged scores" and a second opportunity to complete

the test. The method of manipulating expectancy mTly have caused

differences between the high- and low-expectancy individuals simply

due to their inability to recall their original responses and thus their

failure to improve their scores. Conflicting results have been obtained

by other researchers such as Ward and Sandvold [103], Mirel and Mills

[71], and Goldberg [47]. Ward and Sandvold, for example, in a partial

replication of the Aronson and Carlsmith experiment, found that

individuals prefer to succeed rather than confirm a negative expectancy.

They suggest that contrary findings may be attributed to the demands of

the experimenter and his influence on the subjects. Still others have

suggested that a possible explanation for the Ward and Sandvold results

may be the subjects' anticipation of an audience [6, 102]. This concern

may have stimulated such a desire to perform well that it exceeded the

dissonance aroused between expectation and performance.

Studies of the effects of disparities between expected performance

and actual performance have yielded conflicting findings and clearly

indicate the need for further research.


A final explanation for consideration in attempting to predict

the effects on consumer satisfaction of disparities between expectations

and objective product performance is assimilation-contrast theory. As

its Inamje implies, it combines the theories of assimilation and contrast.

Work by Hovland, Harvey, and Sherif provides support for the contention

that product perfonrmaice differing only slightly from one's expectations

tends to result in displacement of product perceptions toward expec-

tations (assimilation effect), while large variances between one's

expectations and actual product performance tend to be exaggerated

(contrast effect) [53]. Whether assimilation or contrast effects develop

is a function of the relative distance between expectations and actual

product performance [53]. The theory assLumes that individuals have

ranges or latitudes of acceptance, rejection, and neutrality. If the

disparity between expectations and performance falls into the latitude

of acceptance, there is strong probability of an assimilation effect;

i.e., perceived product performance will tend to draw nearer to expec-

tations than the product's objective performance would justify. On

the other hand, a contrast effect will appear if the disparity between

expectations and product performance falls into the consumer's latitude

of rejection. In this case, the product will be perceived as being

farther away from the individual's expectations than objective

performance would indicate.

Personal involvement or commitment to the product seems to be a

determinant of the level of disparity necessary to produce maximum

perceptual change. Low commitment or involvement widens the range of

acceptance, thus it may be difficult to fall into the latitude of

rejection with a promotional message. With strong commitment, however,

even a small disparity between expectations and product performance may

fall outside the consumer's range of acceptance. Thus, as Freedman

implies, maximum' change in attitude towaruqtd the product should occur at

a comjparatively low level of discrepancy for high as opposed to low

colmnitment to the product [40].

Marketing implications

Assim:ilation-contrast theory suggests that advertising messages

should create expectations for the product as high as possible without

creating a level of disparity between expectations and objective

performance which falls outside the consumer's range of acceptance.

As part of the Ohio State University studies in consumer decision-making,

unpublished research by Szablewski provides some support for the premise

that maximum attitude change tends to be brought about when promotional

messages generate disparity that extends only to the outer boundary of

the consumer's latitude of acceptance [99]. In accord with assimilation-

contrast theory, consumer perception of product performance would take

the shape of the S-shaped curve in Figure 1. At low levels of disparity

between expectations and product performance, consumer perceived product

evaluation tends to assimilate differences and draw near to expectations.

However, as the disparity becomes larger, it eventually readies a point

where the contrast effect takes over, and differences between expectations

and objective product performance are magnified.

As Engel, Kollat, and Blackwell say, the assimilation-contrast

interpretation seems to offer the most defensible approach to the strategy

of promotional placement [36]. Furthermore, it helps explain the con-

flicts reported in many of the studies on disconfirmation of expectations.

If this assimilation-contrast theory proves valid, it would be important

for marketers to monitor changes in the ranges of acceptance and rejection

over time for both customers and noncustom;,ers. Contin-uous surveillance

of these variations in constumnr ranges of acceptance and rejection for

a product may give early warning of an erosion of market share due to

discontented customers, or signal an opportunity to winl customers from

the competition [36].


In order to discover which, if any, of the above outlined theories

best describes the true relationships between these important consumer

variables, five hypotheses will be tested, as follows:

1. Null Hypothesis -- product perceptions are

not significantly different for various

levels of expectations.

2. Assimilation -- product perceptions will

vary directly with the level of expectations.

3. Contrast -- product perceptions will vary

inversely with the level of expectations.

4. Generalized Negativity -- product perceptions

will always be negative when there is disparity

between expectations and actual product

performance, and the degree of negativity will

vary directly with the amount of disparity.

5. Assimilation-Contrast -- product perceptions

will vary directly with expectations over a

range around actua-acpual performance, but

above and below this threshold, product percep-

tions will vary inversely with the level of expectations.



Campbell and Stanley claim exp erinentation is "the only decision

court for disagreement between rival theories" [13]. According to Boyd

and Westfall, "If marketing is to become more scientific, more experi-

ments are necessary" [7]. It is encouraging to note that marketers

are becoming more interested in laboratory experiments because of the

demonstrated success of this systematic procedure in the behavioral

sciences where many of the problems seem directly applicable to

marketing [51]. Cox and Enis confidently predict rapid growth in use

of experimental methods in marketing for four reasons. First, experi-

mentation does provide valuable information for marketing management

as indicated by the growing body of marketing literature on experimen-

tation. Second, marketing decisions are becoming more critical to the

company's success as markets expand and become more complex at the same

time that production problems are being handled with increasing

effectiveness due to technological advancements. Third, there is

growing understanding and appreciation of the scientific techniques

among marketing managers as the number of trained researchers has

increased. Fourth, expanding use of the electronic computer has reduced

the burdens of calculations, increased accuracy, facilitated analysis,

and shortened project completion times [28].

ExperJimjental Research

The objective of experimental research is to measure the effects

of alternative courses of action (treatments) upon a given dependent

variable while controlling the effects of any extraneous variables.

The better his control over the experiment variables and extraneous

variations, the greater confidence the researcher can have that he is

actually determining cause and effect relationships. Thus, manipu-

lation of the independent variables, while controlling the possible

effects of other variables, provides experimental research with its

power relative to other research methods.

Under most circumstances, the experimenter must create a

somewhat "artificial" situation, but this very artificiality is the

essence of the experimental technique. It gives the researcher more

control over the variables he is investigating in order to obtain more

conclusive evidence of cause and effect relationships and to prove or

disprove hypotheses that he could otherwise only partially test. It

is for this reason that experiments have been the vehicle for

advancement of knowledge in most scientific fields [7].

In simplest form, the experiment consists of exposing an

experimental unit (e.g., consumers) to an experimental variable

(e.g., product information) and measuring the effect on the dependent

variable (e.g., consumer evaluation of the product). Problems

encountered are of two basic types: (1) internal validity and (2)

external validity. IThe internal problems concern the need to collect

data showing that variation in the dependent variable did occur in

response to the experimental (or independent) variable rather than

other factors which might confound the results. External problems

involve the need to obtain data that show that the change in the

dependent variable in response to the experimental variable is

identical to that which would take place if the general universe

of experimental subjects were exposed to the experimental variable.

Internal validity is amenable to statistical control. For

example, the degree of error in measurements of treatment effects

can be computed for specific levels of confidence. To ensure

statistical control, however, it is necessary that a randomizing

process be carried out so that only chance factors are allowed to

determine the assignment of treatments to test units. Randomization

ensures that extraneous variation has equal exposure among the

treatment variables. Thus, the absolute responses may change but the

relative responses should fluctuate only because of random error

which can be measured in formal experimental designs.

External validity concerns the matter of generalizability.

That is, to what populations, situations, treatment and measurement

variables can the results be generalized? Although internal validity

is considered the sine qua non, external validity can never be

precisely determined [13].

Continuous, multiple experimentation is the key to developing

a science. Experiments, however, need replication and cross validation

at different times under different conditions before they can be

theoretically interpreted with confidence and become an established

part of scientific knowledge. Therefore, each experiment must set

out its procedures for other researchers to follow.

kDesign of the Experiment

"The goal of experimental design," says Balns, "is the

confidence tha t it gives the researcher that his experimental

treatment is the cause of the effect he measures" [28].

A 2 x 6 factorial research design was used to test each of

three dependent variables for the five hypotheses concerning the

effect on consumer perceptions of products following disconfirmation

of expectations. In a factorial design, every combination of the

independent variables is tested, so 12 comparison groups were required

for the present study. Consumer reactions were obtained to five

different levels of persuasive product information as well as the

effect of no product information. In addition, a "take-measure" in

the form of a self-administered questionnaire after presentation of

product information was given to half the subjects (Ss) in each

condition (C) to ensure that expectations were being created in the

desired direction and intensity. The basic experimental design and

prediction matrix for the experiment hypotheses are depicted in

Table 2.

Experimental Subjects

The test groups for the experiment consisted of upper division

students in the College of Business Administration at the University

of Florida. Ss were asked to volunteer for the experiment. None was

coerced to participate, nor was any remuneration or reward offered

until after the Ss had agreed to participate.



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Ss were randomly assigned to both conditions (Cs) and treatments

(Ts) such that each S had a known (equal) probability of appearing in

each cell. 1This assignment was obtained by sequentially collating the

test booklets for the 12 cells of the prediction matrix and randomly

choosing the starting point for distribution.


In asking students to rate products in a catalog containing

miscellaneous products priced under two dollars, Cardozo found that

students were most interested in writing instruments and that there

was less variability of preference among writing instruments than in

any other product category [14]. Therefore, the product chosen for

this experiment was ballpoint pens, since students constitute a major

market for this product. All the ballpoint pens were identical,

unmarked instruments selling at retail for about one dollar each.


Manipulation of the independent variable (expectations) was

accomplished by using five different sets of product information, as

shown in Appendix A, to generate five levels of expectations.

Condition one (C1) substantially understated the product features,

C2 slightly understated the features, C3 described the product

accurately, C4 slightly overstated the quality of the product's

features, and C5 substantially overstated its features. Ss in CO

were given no product information, but instead they received a

communication unrelated to the experiment to occupy a corresponding

amount of time to that taken up by the experimental group in reading

and responding to the product information.


Treatment one (TI) subjects -- half the Ss in each experimental

condition -- were asked to complete a questionnaire after reading one

of the five levels of product information but prior to seeing the

product. T1 acted as a take-measure to ensure that the different

levels of product information were creating expectations in the right

direction, and to measure intensity.

Ss receiving T2 were given a task unrelated to the experiment

so that the time occupied by the two treatments was about the same.

Any significant differences between the results obtained from this

half and the other half of the subject groups would indicate that the

take-measure may have sensitized these latter Ss to evaluation of the

product. If the take-measure proved to be reactive, responses of Ss

in Tl would be discarded and only Ss not receiving the take-measure

would be included in the analysis of the experiment data.

Product Test and Evaluation

All Ss were permitted to inspect and test the product for the

same length of time, then record their reactions on the modified

logarithmic product rating scale using dollars and cents distributed

in small ranges from $.04 to $64.00. (To facilitate analysis, these

ratings were later converted to a single integer by sequentially num-

being the rows of the product rating scale.) Ss rated the ballpoint

pen on 15 visual features and performance characteristics. The mean of

these ratings by each S constituted the first dependent variable. This

was an unweighted mean in that each product feature received equal con-

sideration. The second dependent variable consisted of an overall

rating by Ss on the pen's combined characteristics. This was a weighted

mean since each S was able to assign certain product features more weight

than others in determining his overall evaluation of the pen's character-

istics. Lastly, Ss estimated the ballpoint pen's value to obtain the

third dependent variable. Thus, three measures or dependent variable

responses were secured from each S.


Pretesting took two forms. Each of the independent variables

(different levels of product information and treatments) and the test

instrument (questionnaires and rating scales) were pretested for clarity,

direction, and strength of effect with groups of similar naive subjects

enrolled in basic marketing courses at the University of Florida. In

addition, the entire experiment was pretested with another 60 naive

students enrolled in a marketing course to uncover any particular problems

connected with the administration of the experiment or interpretation

of results.

Analysis of the results from protesting revealed significant

differences between comparison groups for perceptions of the ballpoint

pen's price as predicted, but ratings for the other two dependent vari-

ables (mean ratings and overall ratings) showed no significant differences

between groups. Further analysis and investigation indicated that Ss

were adjusting their rating criteria on the bipolar scale used in the

pretest in accordance with their expectations. This resulted in high

expectations leading to high evaluation criteria, low expectations to

low criteria. For example, an S with high expectations might rate the

pen "3" on the scale of 9 with a price of $2.50, whereas an S with low

expectations might give the pen an "8" rating, but a price of only 59

cents. To stabilize rating criteria, the bipolar scale was abandoned

in favor of a modified logarithmic scale denominated in dollars and cents.

An example of the pretest scale is provided in Appendix B, and the scale

used in the final experiment is shown in Appendix A. No other important

modifications in the instrument or administration were necessary.

Demographic Profile

Ss were randomly assigned conditions and treatments, therefore

it was expected that inter-subject differences would be uniformly dis-

tributed in the 12 comparison groups. In order to be confident of this

uniformity, the Ss were asked to complete a 23-item questionnaire indi-

cating their positions and attitudes on several dimensions thought to be

relevant to expectations or evaluations. The distribution for these

cells (conditions and treatments) was inspected and compared to ensure

the requirements of uniformity.


The experiment was conducted during Spring Term, 1971, at the

University of Florida with group administration to students enrolled

in an intlroductorty mJarketJing course. As the ostensible purpose of

the study, Ss were led to believe that a manufacturer, planning to

introduce a new line of ballpoint pens, was conducting a series of

product tests among several market segments before initiating a

marketing program. E infonned Ss that the manufacturer had provided

several hundred ballpoint pens, and though quite similar in appearance,

the pens ranged in price from those worth only a few cents to those

worth several dollars and up.

Each S was given a large sealed envelope containing a test

booklet and a smaller sealed envelope containing the ballpoint pen.

Ss were told that each of the envelopes contained one of the ballpoint

pens along with a special questionnaire for that particular pen model.

At this time, to increase subject involvement, Ss were informed that

they could keep the ballpoint pen they received.

After an oral reading of the test instructions together with

Ss, E invited questions to which he replied in a non-directive manner.

From this point on, Ss were instructed to operate entirely on their

own since there were no right or wrong answers -- only their opinions.

Approximately 20 percent of the Ss in each condition and

treatment had a detachable final page with their questionnaires

requesting their name and telephone number for a follow-up interview.

Over half of the Ss receiving this request cooperated fully. E used

this subsample of Ss to better understand the reactions of participants

during the test and to help in interpretation of the experimental


Appendix A contains abridged copies of the instrument including

the various experimental conditions. There were 12 different sets of

test booklets -- a set for each of the comparison groups in the

factorial design.


At the conclusion of the experiment when all questionnaires

had been collected, Ss were debriefed. E revealed the fact that all

the ballpoint pens were identical ones selling for about one dollar,

and described the true nature of the experiment. After answering

several questions, E promised to return later in the term to report

the results of the experiment and discuss the conclusions.

Analysis of Data

Treatment Main Effects and Interaction

Analysis of variance was initially used to determine if there

were treatment main effects or interactions which would indicate that

the take-measure was reactive, i.e., partly responsible for the Ss'

particular responses. Assuming such main effects or interactions,

the entire T1 group or set of responses would be excluded from further

analysis. Lack of these main effects or interactions demonstrates

that the take-measure was non-reactive, and the treatment independent

variable can be collapsed. This would permit the number of Ss within

each condition to be doubled, thereby obtaining a better estimate of

experimental error.

Main Effect of Conditions

Analysis of variance was next employed to determine if the mean

response by condition was significantly different. Given a main effect

of conditions, the mean responses by conditions would be plotted to

ascertain whether the data are compatible with one of the theories

concerning the influence of disconfirmed expectations on product


Test for Linearity

The last procedure in the statistical analysis consisted of a

test for linearity of the relationships between Ss' expectations and

perceived product performance for each of the dependent variables.

Significant deviation from linearity would indicate the lack of a

linear relationship necessary for acceptance of hypothesis one (no

significant differences between product evaluations and levels of

expectations), hypothesis two (assimilation theory: product evalu-

ations vary directly with levels of expectations), or hypothesis three

(contrast theory: product evaluations vary inversely with levels of

expectations). Only hypotheses four (generalized negativity) and five

(assimilation-contrast theory) would then be left and the one best

describing the data would be determined by where the deviation(s)

in linearity occurred.


The results of the study are presented in two sections. In

the first section, Ss' mean responses are reported and analyzed to

identify significant differences among comparison groups. The second

section relates the experimental data to appropriate theory.

Presentation and Analysis

The mean responses by condition and treatment for the experiment

are presented in Table 3. Manipulation of the independent variable

created expectations in the right direction with significant differences

of intensity. Mean scores for the dependent variables (product ratings)

show product perceptions are in the direction of expectations until

manipulation at the "very high" level, which caused a reversal and

downturn in product ratings for all three measurement variables

separately and combined.

On each dependent variable, Ss gave the product a more favorable

evaluation when it was accurately described in C3 than when no product

information was provided in C0. Results of Duncan's New Multiple

Range Test, provided in Table 4, reveal that there is a significant

difference between mean scores for C3 and Co. A more detailed presen-

tation of the New Multiple Range Test is set forth in Appendix C.



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Results of New Multiple Range Test

Comparison C1 C2 CO C3 C4 C5
Very Low None On High Very
Groups Low High

Product Features

Means 6.33 7.03 7.17 8.75 9.63 8.69

Combined Characteristics

Means 6.58 7.50 7.67 9.13 10.13 8.96


Means 6.96 7.92 8.33 9.58 10.38 9.96

--J ot Significantly Different at p < .05


The analysis of varilanc for mean response by condition for

expectations, exhibited in Table 5, showed that the manipulation

successfully created highly significant differences among comparison



There were no significant treatment main effects nor treatment

by condition interaction effects for any of the three dependent

variables, as illustrated in Table 6. This indicates that the

independent variable (treatments) can be collapsed for further



Results of one-way analysis of variance (treatment variable

collapsed) to test for main effects of conditions are presented in

Table 7. There was a highly significant main effect of conditions

for product ratings indicating that Ss responded differentially in

their evaluations or perceptions of the product depending upon their

level of expectations.

Relationship to Theory

Plot of Data

Data for each of the three dependent variables are plotted by

conditions in Figures 2, 3, and 4. Product ratings plotted on the

vertical axis are the mean responses for all 24 Ss in each condition.


Analysis of Variance: Expectations

Sources df MS F

Product Features

Conditions (C) 5 276.04 58.69**

Error Term S(C) 66 4.70

Combined Characteristics

Conditions (C) 5 303.41 63.79**

Error Term S(C) 66 4.76


Conditions (C) 5 284.22 53.70**

Error Term S(C) 66 5.29

**p < .01


Analysis of Variance:
Product Perceptions (Evaluations)

Sources df MS F

Product Features

Conditions (C) 5 38.77 9.81*
Treantments (T) 1 .18 .05
C xT 5 1.92 .48
Subjects 132 3.95

Combined Characteristics

Conditions (C) 5 40.46 9.08**
Treatments (T) 1 .84 .19
C xT 5 2.06 .46
Subjects 132 4.46


Conditions (C) 5 42.28 10.69"*
Treatments (T) 1 1.56 .40
CxT 5 .58 .15
Subjects 132 3.96

**p < .01

Subjects are nested within conditions and treatments, and all F ratios
are denominated by MS for S(CT).


TABLo] 7

Analysis of Variance: Product Perceptions
(Treatment Varihbie Colaptsec)


Product Features

Between Conditions

Within Conditions

Combined Characteristics

Between Conditions

Within Conditions

Between Conditions

Within Conditions

**p < .01














~ __ _______________I____~______I___
__ _~__~

Expectations plotted on the horizontal axis are the mean expectations

for the 12 Ss in each condition who were in T1. Price data which were

obtained from Ss in response to an open-ended question were later

translated onto the modified logarithmic scale before being plotted.

There was no experimental manipulation of expectations for Ss

in CO as they received no product information. Therefore, the mean

response of these Ss was plotted separately to avoid uncontrolled and

unexplained distortions of the data plots.

Inspection of the plots suggests conformity with assimilation

theory until reaching C5, which shows a decline in product ratings

for all three dependent variables in accord with the assimilation-

contrast theory of disconfirmation of expectations. Contrast effects,

however, failed to appear in C1 at the low end of the progression of


Test for Linearity

The tests for linearity, depicted in Table 8, show deviations

from linearity to be highly significant for the relationship between

expectations and perceived product performance (product ratings) for

each of the three dependent variables.

Theoretical Models

Significant deviations from linearity discount both the null

hypothesis of no effect of expectations and the possibility of

assimilation theory describing the data. The positive slope of the

plotted data rules out contrast theory which demands a negatively

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Product Features

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Deviation Froli Linc-trity: Relationship
Between Expcectations and Product Perceptions

Sources df SS MS F

Product Features

Between Groups 4 177.19
Linear Regression 1 117.65
Deviation From Linear
Regression (D) 3 59.54 19.85
Error Term (E) 115 3.88
D/E 5.12"*

Combined Characteristics

Between Groups 4 189.75
Linear Regression 1 117.17
Deviation From Linear
Regression (D) 3 72.58 24.19
Error Term (E) 115 4.56
D/E 5.30 0


Between Groups 4 203.58
Linear Regression 1 154.70
Deviation From Linear
Regression (D) 3 48.88 16.29
Error Term (E) 115 3.91
D/E 4.17*

**p < .01

sloped relationship betvccn expectations and product perceptions.

Finally, the deviation from linearity or kink in the curve occurs at

the wrong point to support the Carlsmith-Aronson hypothesis of

generalized negativity. Therefore, the data best fit assimilation-

contrast theory, since product ratings are assimilated toward expec-

tations until the "very high" condition when contrast effect begins,

causing a downturn away from expectations in evaluations of the

product. Possible reasons for the failure of contrast effects to

appear in the "very low" condition will be discussed in the conclusions,


Supplementary Data

Demographic profile

Inspection of the distribution of Ss according to their responses

to the 23-item demographic questionnaire indicated no important dif-

ferences between groups, so it can be assumed that random assignment

effectively controlled systematic self-selection.



The general purpose of this study has been to investigate

consumer dissatisfaction within the context of consumerism. More

specifically, it has been to determine the effect of different levels

of expectations on product evaluations or perceptions of product

performance. The experiment was designed to discover the existence

and shape of any consistent functional relationship between expec-

tations and perceived product performance.

Interpretation of Results

Disparity Between Expectations and Perceived Performance

The experimental data reveal that there is a point beyond which

consumers will not accept increasing disparity between product claims

and actual performance. When this threshold of rejection is reached,

consumers will perceive the product less favorably than at a slightly

lower level of expectations. Assimilation-contrast theory best describes

this effect. The theory assumes that individuals have ranges or latitudes

of acceptance, rejection, and neutrality. If the disparity between

expectations and performance falls into the latitude of acceptance,

assimilation effect takes place. On the other hand, a contrast effect

will appear if the dispariity bet;eoccn expectations and product performance

falls into the consum!or's latitude of rejection. Thus, product per-

formance differing only slightly froln one's expectations tends to result

in displacement of product perceptions toward expectations (assimilation

effect), while large disparities between one's expectations and actual

product performance tend to be exaggerated (contrast theory). other

assimilation or contrast effects develop depends on the amount of

disparity between expectations and actual product performance.

Product Commtit.ment

Contrast effects did not appear in C1, "very low" expectations.

This result may be partially explained by "floor effects" which

prevented manipulation of expectations far enough below the relatively

low cost item (a dollar ballpoint pen) to cause sufficient surprise

or exhilaration upon seeing and trying the product. Due to insuf-

ficient commitment to low priced products, it simply may not be possible

to obtain contrast effects at very low expectation levels. Freedman

[40] has shown that personal involvement or commitment to the product

is a determinant of the level of disparity necessary to produce

maximum perceptual change. Low commitment widens the range of

acceptance, thereby making it more difficult to reach the level of

rejection with a promotional message. With strong commitment, however,

even a small disparity between expectations and product performance

may fall outside the consumer's range of acceptance. Thus, maximum

change in attitude toward the product should occur at a comparatively

low level of discrepancy for high as opposed -to low commitment to the

product. For example,j high valued products and very personal products

such as health and beauty aids would be expected to generate high


The failure of an upturn to occur in C1 at the low end of the

range of expectations is not sufficiently relevant to marketers to

merit much discussion since no advertiser would drastically disparage

his product if he wished to stimulate a high volume of sales. Though

repeat purchasing rates may be high, once consumers try the product,

no such negative promotional strategy is likely to achieve the desired

initial trial rate. Therefore, for practical reasons, we may disregard

marketing implications for the "very low" level of expectations.

Amount of Information

Ratings in C3 were consistently higher than ratings in C0, thus

another important conclusion from the experiment is that a more

favorable evaluation is obtained when a product is accurately described

than when no product information is provided. This finding supports

Cardozo's suggestion that tie mere processing of information may lead

to a more favorable evaluation of the product, not only because

customers have greater knowledge on which to base evaluations, but

also because the processing of information about products constitutes

a form of commitment to products [16]. Thus, it would appear that

marketers who provide more relevant information about their product

will generate higher evaluations and customer satisfaction for their

product than those marketers who depend on persuasive message content

that provides only minimal infoniation. Of course, the amount of

information customers may willingly process without boredom or

confusion no doubt varies widely among individuals and products.

But since consumers perceive selectively in some organized fashion,

it is probably better to provide too much product information than

too little. It is likely that,when marketers provide insufficient

product information for consumers, they merely encourage or force

consumers to seek information about the product from other sources,

such as friends, associates, independent rating organizations, consumer

groups, government agencies, and competitors. Many of these sources

may provide unfavorable or even inaccurate information about the

product. This information cannot be easily countered by the marketer,

except from a very defensive posture, because he forfeited his original

opportunity to present accurate and relevant data.

By presenting ample information, the marketer allows each

consumer to scan promotional material looking for that particular

information which is most meaningful to him and his problem-solving

situation. Consumers may simply ignore promotional messages which

have so little information that they offer no help in making meaningful

purchase decisions.

Consumer Dissatisfaction and Consumerism

The major conclusions from analysis of the experimental data

are: (1) that too great a gap between high expectations and actual

One study found that dissatisfaction with a previous purchase or lack
of experience with a product leads to more information seeking.
See [61].

product performance may cause a less favorable evaluation of a product

than a somewhat lower level of disparity, and (2) that product evalua-

tions are higher when objective product information, as opposed to no

information, is provided consumers. Assuming that consumer dissatis-

faction is a function of the disparity between expectations and per-

ceived product performance, unrealistic consumer expectations generated

by excessive promotional exaggeration can result in consumer dissatis-

faction. The provision of objective product information, however, can

significantly enhance consumer satisfaction.

Growing disparity between expectations and perceived product

performance may be partly responsible for creating dissatisfied con-

sumers who support more restrictive legislation for business. Interest-

ingly, of the 144 marketing students in the present study, over 70

percent felt there should be more government legislation to help

consumers make confident purchasing decisions. About 26 percent

believed existing legislation was sufficient, and less than 4 percent

felt that less legislation was needed. These opinions came from

business students, 60 percent of whom describe their political views

as middle-of-the-road or conservative.

Implications for Marketing

Advertising Positioning

Results of the experiment have important implications for

positioning the level of advertising claims. Since customer expec-

tations apparently affect satisfaction with a product, the marketer

who wishes to understand and favorably influence customers' satisfaction

with his offering may be able to do so by understanding and influencing

customers' expectations. That is, if consumer expectations are a

function of promotion, and customer satisfaction is a function of ex-

pectations, then satisfaction may be considered a function of promotion.

This research points up the danger in designing company promo-

tional mixes. Exaggeration of product features and performance seems

to generate, at least initially, higher ratings and consumer satis-

faction with the product up to a certain point, depending upon the

product and its importance to the consumer, but beyond this critical

threshold, exaggeration is detrimental to product evaluation and to

consumer satisfaction. If a downturn in product evaluation can be

obtained for a relatively low-commitment product such as a ballpoint

pen, one would expect much more unfavorable reaction to comparable

overstatement of product performance of items such as automobiles,

living room suites, and other items of relatively high cost.

Some consumers may have unrealistically high expectations for

product performances even without the added boost of promotional

claims. Distribution of unrealistic expectancies among consumers

may stem partly from widespread faith in the achievements and possi-

bilities of research and technology, resulting in the feeling that

products can and should be made to perform flawlessly. As history

demonstrates, standards and performance expectations for all categories

of products (from automobiles to clothing) tend to steadily rise and

people become increasingly less tolerant of product deficiencies.

Enlightened company executives might profitably reassess the

often implicit sales oriented view that the higher the level of

consulner product expectations stimulated by promotion, the better,

because the primary objective of the promotional mix is to sell

the product. This attitude can be contagious among competing companies.

However, the accumulation of consumer disappointment or dissatisfaction

may eventually erupt in a demand for more consumer protection legis-

lation, resulting in a more restrictive marketing environment for

business [5].

Legislative Trend in Advertising

According to Business c 1 (February 20, 1971, p. 72), future

advertising on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, will

probably be more factual than in the past due largely to the consumer

movement. In a petition to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Ralph

Nader has requested that advertisers be required to submit written

evidence of claims "in advance of advertising," and that the FTC be

required to make that evidence available to the public. The FTC

already contends that it can: (1) consider as an unfair practice any

claims an advertiser makes when he has no data to support the claims --

even if the claims are true; (2) demand a higher standard of truth-

fulness when advertising is directed at children or other consumers

too unsophisticated to discount camera or copy gimmicks; (3) force a

company to devote a substantial portion of its advertising space to

confessing that previous advertising was untrue; (4) conduct studies

to refute a manufacturer's own product testing; and (5) publicize the

names of those advertisers and advertising agencies who receive its


As of May, 1971, the F1TC hlas nearly 100 wcel -IJlown television

commercials under investigation for claims m]ade about such products

as mouthwashes, cereals, non-prescription pain-killers, baby foods,

and fruit drinks.

Measuring CoDnsumcr Satisfaction

In this era of consumerism, if a market segment is not

satisfied, it behooves a marketing organization to become aware of

this dissatisfaction before it results in lost sales. Marketing

intelligence or consumer feedback may be obtained from (a) actively

soliciting information from consumers, (b) taking advantage of

unsolicited information (suggestions and complaints) which flows

to the firm, or (c) a combination of the above two wherein all

potential sources of feedback information are utilized to supplement

and verify each other to better understand and communicate with


Too often, it seems, marketers have tended to view sales and

share of the market as indicators of the degree of customer satis-

faction with their market offerings. A survey of 128 leading

companies, advocating the marketing concept, selected from Fortune's

500 of June, 1967, revealed that over half of the companies used

sales as major estimates of customer satisfaction while 44 percent

used share of the market as a major index [67]. Sales are affected

by many environmental factors besides customer satisfaction. Similarly,

market share may only indicate satisfaction relative to other brands,

but it says little about the absolute level of customer satisfaction

being obtained from the brand and product category.

Instead of using indirect, often unreliable measures of

customer satisfaction, marketing executives ought to continuously

monitor customer satisfaction by analyzing and being responsive to

customer complaint letters and by conducting regular surveys of

consumer expectations and perceived product performance, not just

relative to competitive brands, but of the entire product category.

Each company needs to establish a system of customer feedback so that

top management is quickly and specifically alerted to consumer dis-

satisfaction with any aspect of the total corporate offering, including

such areas as billing and credit arrangements, refunds and exchanges,

installation and servicing of major products, warranties and guaranties,

instructions and assistance in product use, and perceived company

attitude and image as presented by advertising, salesmen, and other

promotional material. Whirlpool Corporation has taken a giant step

in this direction by creating a 24-hour "cool line" which enables

customers to call toll-free from anywhere in the country to register

a complaint, make a suggestion, inquire about service, or obtain

product information.

Conmunications Gap

The overriding problem evident in corporate communications

efforts seems to be the relative lack of two-way communications between

companies and consumers. One-way communication is inadequate since

neither party obtains sufficient feedback to understand the other's

position and permit appropriate adjustment in behavior. Consumers

are more highly educated and sophisticated than ever, and many of

them have a very low tolerance for anything that smacks of dishonesty,

condescension, or insensitivity. As George Koch, president of

Grocery Manufacturers Association, has stated: "We must assume more

responsibility for communicating with the consumer on his terms, not

ours" [25]. With the increasing consumer demand for social respon-

sibility on the part of business, successful marketers will need to

consider consumer interests, individually and collectively, before

reaching any major marketing decisions.

Suggestions for Future Research

Modifications and Extensions of Present Research

High commitment products

Probably the most obvious suggestions for future research

would be to test the effect of expectations on consumer perceptions

of product performance with different types of products and

services. For example, products whose purchase would constitute

a substantial portion of the consumer's budget, such as automobiles,

color television sets, and furniture, or personal services such

as hair styling, appliance repair, schools offering specialized

training, or cosmetic surgery and dentistry.

Disconfirmation of expectations for products and services

for which consumers make deep personal and financial commitment

may have substantially different effects on consumer perceptions

of performance than less personal, lower cost, and less ego-related

products and services.

_ C I _1

Satisfaction over time

A logical extension of the present experiment and previously

reported experiments concerning theories of disconfirmed expectation

is consideration of the dimension of time. Assimilation-contrast

theory suggests that promotional messages ought to exaggerate actual

product performance as much as possible without creating a level of

disparity between expectations and actual product performance extending

beyond the consumers' latitude of acceptance. Though the evidence

supports this conclusion for initial purchase and over the short-run,

what is the effect of this disparity between expectations and per-

formance over time? Will an exaggeration of claims for a product

eventually create customer dissatisfaction and boomerang on the

promoter? Marketers could profitably measure the effects of different

levels of disparity between expectations and performance over the

usage life of the product. Does the consumer become more objective

in evaluating products he has purchased as he gathers more information

and feedback from various sources, or does he become more committed

to a purchase over time and thus more satisfied with extended usage?

Buying motives

Product buying motives may be generally divided into those

motives which are operational or functional and those which are

sociopsychological. Operational buying motives include those reasons

for the purchase of the product that are directly related to the

expected-performance of the product. In other words, their satis-

faction is derived largely from the product's physical performance,

as, for example, that of acan opener.

Sociop.sychological buying motives comprise those reasons for

the purchase viwhid are indirectly related to expected performance of

the product and directly related to the consumer's social and psycho-

logical interpretation of the product, for example, perfume. The

satisfaction that the consumer receives is only indirectly derived

from the product's physical performance. The direct source of satis-

faction is the psychological well-being that the consumer receives from

the ownership, use, and social prestige of the product, either at a

conscious or subconscious level of thought. The effect of various

levels of disparity between expectations and performance might be

profitably studied for products purchased for largely operational

or functional motives as compared to the effects for products bought

primarily for sociopsychological motives.

As an adjunct to the above study, it might be worthwhile to

determine if there are significant differences between consumer

reactions based on personality types. It may be that promotional

mixes should be designed to segment the target market on the basis

of personality types as determined by probability samples of the

potential market for the product.

Children as consumers

An interesting and valuable long-run study for advertisers

would be to determine the effect on adult consumers of persistent

disappointment or dissatisfaction with products as children. Do

children grow steadily more dubious of product claims so that by

adulthood they have become cynical and unsympathetic to the problems

of business? It imay not be imre coincidence that many of the most

adamant consume:rists such as "Na.dr's Raiders" were the first generation

to grow up with television advertising.

Complainants vs. Noncomplain ants

The extraordinary rise of consumerism in the 1960s provides

support for the contention that consumer satisfaction has been badly

neglected despite the oftentimes eloquent lip-service paid to the

marketing concept. Companies seem to have been largely content with

periodically measuring the consumer acceptance of their company brands

vis-a-vis competitive brands. This is an inadequate measure of

customer satisfaction since none of the products on the market may be

satisfying consumers.

With the purchase and use of any product, some consumers are

satisfied while others may be dissatisfied. Some of the dissatisfied

customers will file formal complaints while the remainder do not

express their discontent to the merchant or manufacturer -- but may

transfer their allegiance to another brand and perhaps become trans-

mitters of adverse word-of-mouth communications about the perceived

low-performing brand.

Proprietary studies conducted in June, 1970, by Opinion Research

Corporation found that one of every five American families feel that

they have been cheated or deceived in regard to at least one product

or service purchased during the past year. A particularly surprising

finding was that over 30 percent of people who feel they have been

cheated or deceivedty a defective product or-service do nothing, and

__ __

approximately 70 percent do nothing about what they perceive as

defective or deceptive packaging and misleading advertising. Specific

reasons for this inaction have not been investigated but may be

related to the perceived lack of clearly open channels for effectively

expressing a complaint or obtaining redress.

Are there significant differences between complainants and

noncomplainan-ts? Three hypotheses might be tested: (1) product

expectation levels are significantly higher for complainants than for

noncomplainants; (2) perceived product performances are significantly

lower for complainants than for noncomplainants; and (3) perceived

availability of channels for redress of complaints is significantly

higher for complainants than for noncom-plainants.

As long as some in the business community tacitly assume that

consumer complaints come largely from a radical element unrepresentative

of consumers as a whole, and consumer advocates think of the business

community as insensitive exploiters of people, there is little

likelihood that improved communications will come about to enable

cooperation in finding solutions to common problems. As a step toward

understanding, it would be valuable for business to obtain a profile

of consumer complainants as compared to noncomplainants. Probability

samples of complainant and noncomplainant users of a major durable

appliance might be obtained from sample frames of warranty cards and

consumer complaints received by a manufacturer of a widely advertised

brand of the product. Analysis of the findings should permit conclusions

as to whether there are significant differences between complainants

and noncoimplainiilns with respect to expectations, perceived product

performance, and perceived availability of channels to obtain redress

of complaints. Specific corrective action could then be taken to

improve communications between firms and consumers.

Active vs. Passive Research

In order to become sensitive and responsive to changes in our

dynaiidc environment, marketing practitioners and scholars will have

to revamp their attitudes toward marketing problems. If marketing

had really been guided by the philosophy of the marketing concept,

there would not have been a dramatic uprising of consumers in the

past decade. To avoid being caught napping under our mottoes and

to preempt critics from outside marketing, such as Ralph Nader and

John Kenneth Galbraith, it is important for marketers to adopt an

active rather than a passive research strategy. Rather than wait for

problems to crop up, marketers should "go looking for trouble" in

terms of locating areas of consumer dissatisfaction and marketing

inefficiencies. When problems or potential problems are discovered,

we must identify the relevant variables affecting the phenomena, then

undertake systematic and scientific testing to determine cause and

effect relationships which will aid prediction and problem solving

decisions. Only in this active scientific way will marketers make

the fullest contribution to preventing or solving marketplace problems

efficiently and effectively. Just as the older behavioral sciences

have demonstrated, marketing can become increasingly more scientific

and relevant; but, as Campbell and Stanley stress, systematic experi-

mentation is the only available route to cumulative progress [13].

__ __




Oral Instructions

Questionnaire Instructions

Condition 0

Condition 1

Condition 2

Condition 3

Condition 4

Condition 5

Instructions for Rating Product

Product Rating Sheet

Personal Profile Questionnaire (Including Ss'

Follow-up Interview Request Form